Perrow (1970) suggested that leaders’ characteristics play an insignificant role in determining the effectiveness of organizational leadership compared to the structural features of the organization. This statement encapsulates the basic assumption of situational leadership. Vroom and Jago (2007) elaborated on the statement by noticing three reasons why leaders’ characteristics are irrelevant to organizational effectiveness:

  1. The limited power of leaders.
  2. The selection process to choose the leaders will significantly decrease the characteristic differences between the candidates. The process will try to choose the leaders
  3. The individual differences will be insignificant compared to the situational demands of the leadership role

The powers that create a situation within an organization are more complex and more significant. Hence, the situation will determine whether the characteristics of the leaders will result in organizational effectiveness or not, instead of the leaders themselves. Vroom and Jago (2007) described this as pure situational leadership. However, diminishing the leader’s role as completely irrelevant is also incorrect.

McCleskey (2014) stated that situational leadership theory emphasized the urgency to relate the leadership style to situational variables, such as followers’ maturity level. To complete the relationship, Vroom and Jago (2007) identified three ways the situational variables would affect the leadership process:

  1. Organizational effectiveness will be affected by situational factors that are not under the leaders’ control
  2. Situations will affect leaders’ behaviors
  3. Situations will affect the consequences of leaders’ behaviors.

Based on these foundations, scholars came up with the common conception that a leadership style will only be effective in a certain situation and may not be effective in a different situation (Vroom & Jago, 2007). Thus, effective leaders are not those who have certain traits or practice certain behaviors, but those who can choose the leadership style that will be the most suitable to the particular situation of the organization.

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One of the most comprehensive situational leadership models is the Situational Leadership® II (SLII) model, proposed by Blanchard et al. (2013). It uses four leadership styles based on the level of the directive and supportive behavior:

  1. Delegating (low in the directive and supportive),
  2. Supporting (low in the directive, high in supportive),
  3. Coaching (high in the directive and supportive), and
  4. Directing (high in the directive, low in supportive).

The model also incorporates the development level, which is the level of competence and commitment of the subordinates. In line with the situational leadership theory, the model does not push the leader to rely on one style but rather to choose the most appropriate style based on the development level (Northouse, 2021). The basic assumptions of the model have also been tested as well as its practicality (Zigarmi & Roberts, 2016). While the classical leadership styles are too leader-centered, this model also incorporates the subordinates’ needs which may require a different leadership style.

Situational Leadership from My Experience

I used to lead a group of outdoor adventure experts under my adventure tourism company mainly providing extreme sports, such as whitewater rafting and volcano hiking. Typically, my leadership role was more of a supporting role as my subordinates are experts in their fields. However, I remembered changing my role to a highly directive role on three occasions, all of them are some sort of natural disaster. The first was a widespread forest fire and the second was a huge flash flood. On both occasions, I used a more directive approach as I need to be quick and decisive in my decision-making, mainly to save lives. The third occasion was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when I have to take the bitter decision of freezing my company’s operation.

Also read about Leadership: Behavior, Trait, or Skill?

References

Blanchard, K., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (2013). Leadership and the One Minute Manager Updated Ed: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership® II. William Morrow.

McCleskey, J. A. (2014). Situational, Transformational, and Transactional Leadership and Leadership Development. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 5(4), 117. https://www.academia.edu/download/51023520/June_2014_9.pdf

Northouse, P. G. (2021). Leadership: Theory and Practice. SAGE Publications.

Perrow, C. (1970). Organization Analysis: A Sociological View. Belmont. Wadsworth Publishing Company

Vroom, V. H., & Jago, A. G. (2007). The Role of the Situation in Leadership. American Psychologist, 62(1), 17–24. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.62.1.17

Zigarmi, D., & Roberts, T. P. (2017). A Test of Three Basic Assumptions of Situational Leadership® II Model and Their Implications for HRD Practitioners. European Journal of Training and Development, 41(3), 241–260. https://doi.org/10.1108/ejtd-05-2016-0035

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